We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade… Ukrainian style

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. When it gives you shot down Russian aircraft, strip the bits & sell ’em as souvenirs to help fund the war effort.

Can you see the parallels between Saigon and Kabul now, Mr President?

Reporter #1: “Is the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan now inevitable?”

President Biden: “No. It is not. Because you have the Afghan troops have 300,000 – well-equipped- as well equipped as any army in the world – and an air force – against something like 75,000 Taliban. It is not inevitable”

Reporter #2: “Mr President, thank you very much. Your own intelligence community has assessed that the Afghan government will likely collapse.”

Pres. Biden: “That is not true.”

Reporter: “Is it – Can you please clarify what they have told you about whether that will happen or not.”

Pres. Biden: “That is not true. They did not reach that conclusion.”

Reporter: “So what is the level of confidence that they have that it will not collapse?”

Pres. Biden: “The Afghan government, the leadership, has to come together. They clearly have the capacity to sustain the government in place.”

Reporter: “Do you see any parallels with this withdrawal and what happened in Vietnam? With some people feeling…”

Pres. Biden: “None whatsoever. Zero. What you had is entire brigades breaking through the gates of our embassy. Six if I’m not mistaken.”

“The Taliban is not the South – the North Vietnamese army. They’re not remotely comparable in terms of capability. There’s going to be no circumstance where you see people being lifted off the roof of a embassy of the United States from Afghanistan. It is not at all comparable.”

– President Joe Biden, press briefing, 8th July 2021. Kabul fell on 15th August.

From Guido Fawkes’ post of 16th August 2021, “Biden’s tragically optimistic Afghanistan press briefing shows lack of intelligence”

“All manpower, no metal” – Ukrainian mobilisation, equipment shortages, and training

Another excellent chat by Perun for folk interested in this kind of thing.

Samizdata quote of the day

The suggestion that foreign-born terrorists should, perhaps, be asked to leave and build their murderous theocracy elsewhere would make the people who write and enforce our laws choke on their quinoa salad.

Konstantin Kisin

Salman Rushdie stabbed on stage in New York, condition unknown

“What’s on your mind?” asks the WordPress dashboard at the top of the little box where you put your content. This. This is on my mind. Salman Rushdie getting stabbed. Back in the 1990s I bought a copy of The Satanic Verses as a contribution to his security costs. I’ve read it, and Midnight’s Children, and found them memorable but they were not books to which I wished to return. I thought all that stuff about the Iranian fatwa had faded away. I guess not.

Edit: “I’m literally a communist” Ash Sarkar sinks to the occasion:

Don’t have anything particularly clearheaded to say, but the stabbing of Salman Rushdie (though it has decades-old origins) alongside the campaign of threats and intimidation against drag queens in the US makes it feel like a very grim, dangerous time for artistic expression.

Water – Can It Be A Competitive Industry?

(I focus on the UK here in this brief commentary; needless to say, readers in the US and other countries such as Singapore or parts of Europe will have plenty to add. I remember reading about how water rights and arguments over it has been a huge issue in the US Southwest, for example, for decades. Chinatown, the old Jack Nicholson film, is a favourite of mine.)

There are restrictions on water use in the UK at the moment, which has been through one of those long, hot summers that are great for a few weeks as people get out the barbecues and soak up the Vitamin D, but become a pain when folk have to work when the country cannot seem to manage air conditioning. And then the “green and pleasant land” goes the colour of café au lait. There are issues about whether, if such weather remains a regular feature, that certain crops such as wheat have to be irrigated. (Much wheat is grown in East Anglia, where my Dad had a farm and is the driest part of the UK, being on the eastern side of the country.)

From a free marketeer’s point of view, the water business is a bit of a challenge. The system of pipes, reservoirs and meters put in place can, to some extent, have business features and use the price mechanism to allocate resources (water meters, for example), but it is not all that feasible or politically easy to have different water firms competing to supply the stuff over rival pipes, dig out rival reservoirs, or desalination plants, etc. Digging a reservoir typically will require a compulsory purchase power, or what in the US is called Eminent Domain, and that is not something that is easily granted to a wide variety of suppliers of water.

So in the eyes of many, much of today’s water sector is what economists call a ”natural monopoly”. (The competitive bits might include supplies of bottled drinking water, home equipment for filtering water, private water storage, etc.)

Monopolies tend to be abused by those running them unless there is a realistic prospect of competition to keep people honest. The cluster of firms running the water organisations in the UK, such as Thames Water, are in some cases listed firms and pay a dividend, or they are owned by other listed firms (sometimes classed by asset managers as “infrastructure”). The salaries of their senior executives are the subject of much angst in the press, including the supposedly pro-capitalist ends of it, never mind those reflexively hostile to business. Because of the natural monopoly aspects of these firms, they are regulated by a quango called The Water Services Regulation Authority, which sets certain standards including pricing. From time to time there are calls for water utilities to be renationalised, although it is worth noting that in the last big drought in the UK of 1976, utilities were state owned, and that certainly did not prevent all kinds of water bans and restrictions. (Here is a paper written 21 years ago from the Institute of Economic Affairs about water utilities and competition.)

So what should classical liberals and libertarians think about this? Are there examples from around the world on how to inject genuine competition into a field deemed always to be a monopoly, or should water supply be a sort of minimal state function like law and order, akin to how one might think about the cardiovascular system of the body? Would an anarcho-capitalist order be able to handle these questions (rival agencies running packages for water/power, etc with different pricing regimes all competing against one another?)

It does seem to me that there should be more opportunity for innovation and change that could put water companies under healthy pressure. For example, building several desalination plants (they don’t have to be even very big – nuclear-powered submarines use them) might be an idea for a commercial provider who could offer to supply cheaper water into the system, but I am guessing the price incentives would need to be big enough to justify the costs, depending on how expensive a plant is or whether they can be build in sufficient amounts to achieve economies of scale.) There is even a specialist market in small desalination/reverse osmosis tech for producing water for folk such as sailors, etc. (See an example here.) And see here for an interesting article from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

One could, I suppose, have a system where water suppliers compete to supply water into a series of reservoir hubs for an agreed amount; the water could even be shipped or piped from wetter parts of the UK such as Wales and Scotland, and be a nice source of revenue for those places. Maybe it is time for Scottish nationalists to spend more time figuring out how to get rich by using this resource instead of bellyaching about the evil English. Also, very large users of water – agri-businesses irrigating land, or industrial users – have the bargaining power to negotiate prices and hence could even build mini-reservoirs of their own, assuming governments allowed it.

There may be plenty of other ways to think about the limits, but also the potential, of making the business of water more competitive and businesslike. Because it strikes me that if those arguments aren’t made in a constructive way, the usual calls for State control will be ever louder. The past few years, such as over COVID-19, have taught us, surely, that fear of bad things happening plays all too often in one, clunky direction.

(I haven’t mentioned global warming yet, but while that issue has obviously been raised a lot by those who extrapolate trends from a period of weather, I think the issues here aren’t dependent on whether man-made global warming is true or not, or bad or not. For once, I am parking that subject to the side of the road.)

Don’t have any sympathy UK

I have no sympathy for these idiots.

we are demanding a reduction of energy bills to an affordable level. Our leverage is that we will gather a million people to pledge not to pay if the government goes ahead with another massive hike on October 1st

Imagine finding yourself living a comfortable life in the twenty first century, surrounded by plentiful food and energy. Imagine looking at the world and thinking that all of this is thanks to the government. The government! Imagine voting, repeatedly, thinking that it is the government who are most able to ensure your life remains comfortable. Sure, nearly every politician has turned out to be corrupt and useless. Nearly every promise has been broken. But this time we will vote for the right people and it will be better. And we definitely do not need to put up with any down-sides. We do not need to build nasty nuclear power stations or drill for smelly gas. We can just keep buying it from other countries and building windmills.

Imagine not noticing the invention, the industry, the toil of others of past ages to bring us to the point that machinery can feed us, the effort and ingenuity that brings us energy.

And when something goes wrong and there suddenly is not as much so readily available, why, we can just vote ourselves more cheap energy. And if they will not let us vote for cheap energy, we will just refuse to pay. Because we are citizens of the twenty first century and we are used to comfort and we deserve to have it! And it is just not fair if it is suddenly more expensive! The government must not allow prices to go up. Other people must keep feeding cheap gas into my house. Or else!

Sheer, fucking hubris.

Samizdata quote of the day

There’s a great deal of vanity involved in all of this. Our political elites, encouraged by a priestly caste of experts, love to pose as miracle-workers. To them, and to us who elect them to office, I would every day recite Ormerod’s final dictum: “We may intend to achieve a particular outcome, but the complexity of the world, even in apparently simple situations, appears to be so great that it is not within our power to ordain the future.” Only when this lesson is internalised will we begin to emerge from the age of failure.

Martin Gurri

Meringue exports

One big problem of Brexit is that it’s created a big category error in everyone’s thinking. Problems are categorised as being caused by Brexit instead of by trade regulation.

Nobody notices the EU could just choose not to restrict food imports from the UK. Or vice versa. French people’s inability to buy British meringues is unseen.

Because we use egg, there was a real problem with ‘do we need to get a vet in to certify the egg?’ and we were being pushed from pillar to post from [the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs] and the Department for Trade and it was so difficult to understand.

Is there really any need to check food at the border? Might one not reasonably assume that British food legally sold in Britain is safe? Stopping diseases at borders might be somewhat useful but this is something that can be activated after the detection of a specific problem, just as it presumably is within the EU.

The real reason for these regulations is to make work for regulators.

Samizdata quote of the day

“Schumer-Manchin won’t reduce inflation, won’t reduce the budget deficit, and it won’t reduce the world’s temperature. What it will do is transfer some $369 billion from taxpayers and drug companies to the pockets of green energy businesses and investors. It will tighten the hold that politicians have on the allocation of capital, as they pick winners and losers with their grants and tax credits. Everyone will get a nice warm feeling as they pretend they are cooling the climate.”

Wall Street Journal ($), commenting on the latest abomination to pass through the House of Representatives. It points that the supposedly “green” parts of this bill will, according to Danish “skeptical environmentalist” Bjorn Lomborg, reduce the estimated global temperature rise at the end of this century by all of 0.028 degrees Fahrenheit in the optimistic [United Nations scenario] case. And meanwhile China proceeds apace with building coal-fired power stations.

Interesting technical discussion about the ‘missile war’ in Ukraine

For those interested in such things…

From the always interesting Perun.

Samizdata quote of the day

“When did you hear any public figure extol cheap energy as an agent of poverty alleviation? When did you hear any historian describe how coal, and later oil, liberated the mass of humanity from back-breaking drudgery and led to the elimination of slavery? For 10,000 years, the primary source of energy was human muscle-power, and emperors on every continent found ways to harness and exploit their fellows. But why bother with slaves when you can use a barrel of sticky black stuff to do the work of a hundred men – and without needing to be fed or housed? The reason no one says these things (other than Matt Ridley) is to be blunt, that it is unfashionable. The high-status view is that we are brutalising Gaia, that politicians are in hock to Big Oil, and that we all ought to learn to get by with less – a view that is especially easy to take if you spend the lockdown being paid to stay in your garden, and have no desire to go back to commuting.”

Dan Hannan

I remember reading TS Ashton’s book on the Industrial Revolution many years ago as an undergraduate, and it was emphatic that no serious civilisation lifts out of poverty without an Industrial Revolution. Even Karl Marx, wrong as he was on so much around economics, gave grudging respect to the IR in his Communist Manifesto. (Old Soviet propaganda posters would show pictures of rosy-cheeked workers in front of factories belching out smoke.)